There are many people who hold a job in which they either work outdoors in direct heat or in hot indoor environments. Each year, thousands of employees become sick from occupational heat exposure and some even die.

Heat is a hazard to workers due to the body’s need to get rid of excess heat when a person works in a hot environment. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. This causes the body’s core temperature to rise and the heart rate to increase. As the body stores more heat, the person begins to lose concentration and has difficulty focusing on a task. They may become irritable and sick, with the next stage being fainting or even death if the person is not cooled down.

The good news is that these illnesses and deaths are completely preventable.

Steps to Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses

  • Implement engineering controls such as proper air conditioning and ventilation that make the work environment cooler
  • Encourage work practices including work/rest cycles, drinking water often and providing an opportunity for workers to build up a level of tolerance to working in the heat
  • Ensure that employees know prevention steps in worksite training and plans

It is also important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat-related illnesses in yourself and others during hot weather. While the most serious heat illness is heat stroke, other illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash can also result from time spent under the sun.

Identifying key heat-related symptoms

Heat stroke: This is the most serious form of heat-related illness and happens when the body cannot regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. If you are experiencing heat stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately, as this is a medical emergency that may result in death.

Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst and heavy sweating.

Heat cramps: Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. The low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles that are used for performing work are oftentimes the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.

Heat rash: Also known as prickly heat, heat rash is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.

If you believe that you are experiencing any of these symptoms from heat exposure, pull over and call 911. Use a wet cloth, cold water or an ice pack to aid in lowering your body temperature in the interim.

Check out our one-page handout on identifying and preventing heat-related illnesses!

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  • Health & Wellness
  • Weather Conditions